I learned by doing. As simple as that. Nothing could have prepared me.
Famed jewellery designer John Hardy and his wife Cynthia sold their company and used the profits to build a school in Bali
When young Canadian art graduate John Hardy ran away to in Bali at the age of 25, little did he know that it would bring him not one adventure in his life, but two… Smitten with the work of the Balinese artisans, Hardy started to learn more about their techniques. With his new wife Cynthia, he went onto launch a jewellery company specialising in silverwork. Their innovative designs matched with age-old techniques was a potent combination and it wasn’t long before their eye-catching pieces were sold on the glittering streets of Manhattan at Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. For the next 20 years, the Hardys would turn their small workshop into an international company. It was says John Hardy: “A fairy tale”.
While the world clamoured to own their pieces, the designers chose not to leave Bali. In 2007, Hardy was ready to retire, but then his wife took him to see Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” and he soon realised that he was about to start his next adventure. “My wife ruined my life by taking me to see that film,” says Hardy. “I have four kids, and even if part of what he says is true, they’re not going to have the life that I had. And I decided at that moment that I would spend the rest of my life doing whatever I could to improve their possibilities.”
Hardy knew that if you want people to save the planet, it’s about education. But as a child who suffered from dyslexia and went to a school that was built out of the same materials as the local prison and insane asylum it was never one of his favourite places. “My mother revealed that I was the little kid in the village who cried all the way to school,” reveals Hardy.
The Hardys thought hard about how they could inspire the next generation of green leaders. Using the profits from their jewellery business that they had just sold, they decided to build a school that would not only educate children about the environment, but was itself environmentally friendly. So in 2007 they built the Green School by the Ayung River near Ubud, Bali.
While the entrepreneurs had already owned one successful business, building an eco-friendly school was they confess a huge learning curve. “I learned by doing. As simple as that. Nothing could have prepared me,” says Hardy.
They had to look at everything. No petrochemicals in the pavements, school meals made without using gas, and taking the school off the grid… But their tireless search to find the right materials paid them back tenfold. They switched concrete for bamboo and with the help of local artisans built a cathedral to green learning.
Not everything worked. The canvas and rubber skylights in the roof dissolved after just six months of tropical sunshine and the teachers highlighted the fact that they needed white boards (which contained PVC) to help them conduct their classes. The Hardys found a talented principal to run the school, but it was up to them to make sure that building was a success and provided the right environment for the students and teachers. It was a huge commitment, but the couple stuck at it. It was says Hardy about “Getting the details right and figuring out what ‘green’ meant for us. We had to follow these simple, simple rules: be local, let the environment lead and think about how our grandchildren might build”.
When faced with an issue, they set about finding a solution. The PVC white boards became car window screens backed with white paper and they switched the rubber skylights for recycled plastic.
While solar panels are scattered throughout the school, the Hardys wanted to run the school using as little energy as possible. The classrooms were built without walls, so that a breeze could run through the building. And on the days when it becomes too hot, the children sit in a huge cotton bubble that only emphasises how the environment will affect them.
While the children learn maths, science, literature, they also learn about ancient Balinese arts, planting rice and embracing the environment, so this is why the Hardys made sure that the school’s garden ran up to the door of every classroom.
But every small – or large – headache has been worth it for this year the Green School celebrates its 10th anniversary. Children from 25 countries are now students at the school and 20 per cent of the children are from Bali. “We believe in educating Bali’s next green local leaders,” says Hardy. “This was a really big commitment. People are coming forward from all over the world to support the Balinese Scholarship Fund, because these kids will be Bali’s next green leaders.”
Hardy never regrets trading his retirement for his second Balinese adventure. He only needs to walk around the school to remind him why he and his wife chose to build the Green School. “The students are kind of microcosm of the globalized world. When I see them together, I know that they’re working out how to live in the future.”
For more information on Green School visit www.greenschool.org